In a bid to improve the efficiency of counting ballots for the 2017 Scottish local authority elections, the Scottish Government has awarded CGI a £6.5 million contract to deliver an e-counting solution. The solution will scan paper ballots and discern the various weightings within a matter of hours, allowing for a speedy availability of the election results.
E-counting refers to a method of counting paper ballots electronically. The papers are scanned into a computer which then recognises the votes, as opposed to manual vote counting. The benefit of the system is that it greatly improves the speed of counting votes, from a number of days to a number of hours. The system is not without issue however; as scans – unlike the memory of ballot counters – are potentially open to wider and more systematic privacy breaches. Since the 2007 electronic voting fiasco, when more than 140,000 ballots were voided incorrectly due to system failures, manual counting has been introduced as a backup if a ballot cannot be read by the system.
The 2017 elections in Scotland will involve the simultaneous elections of some 200 councillors in 353 wards across Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities. The election method in the Scottish elections is relatively complex, following the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. The voting papers allow votes for every candidate in order of preference. The result is that manual counting can take three to four days.
As a result of the success of the counting process during the 2012 Scottish council elections, CGI has been awarded a second contract with £6.5 million to deliver an electronic vote counting system for the 2017 local council elections in Scotland. The deal sees the consulting firm provide a complete solution for infrastructure and services to support Scottish Local Government elections and by-elections until 2021.
The electronic voting system solution, which has been developed by CGI’s Glasgow-based partner Idox, will scan and read the ballots in a matter of hours, with the calculation taking a matter of minutes. The new system will undergo considerable testing to make sure that the results are robust and accurate. A large scale, publicly observed, bulk test will occur prior to the actual event. CGI will also be running a number of trainings to prepare the team for the elections. During the election month, a team of 300 CGI staff will be prepared to deliver technical assistance onsite.
“The next 12 months will be of vital importance as we engage in a robust testing regime of the e-counting system in advance of the elections in 2017,” Maggie Morrison, Director of Public Sector for CGI’s operations in Scotland, explains. “This will provide confidence for the voters, parties, candidates and all those with an interest in the election. We are honoured to once again work with the Scottish Government and support the democratic process.”
The new deal joins a variety of other deals that CGI has with the Scottish Government or local authorities, including a £186 million seven year ICT contract with the City of Edinburgh Council, and a procurement framework contract with the Scottish Government to provide IT support to services and civil society worth up to £105 million over four years.